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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Experts Warned of Reactor Flaws Decades Ago

Air Date: Week of

Second Explosion at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. (Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons)

Dale Bridenbaugh was known as one of the “GE Three,” a group of top engineers at General Electric that pointed out safety flaws in the Mark I reactor- the same model being used at the Fukushima site. He tells host Bruce Gellerman that more could have been done to prevent the crisis in Japan.


GELLERMAN: The reactor at Vermont Yankee is just one of 23 GE Mark 1’s still operating in the US. They’re the same model as five of the six reactors at Japan’s ill-fated Fukushima Dai Ichi plant. Dale Bridenbaugh knows the GE Mark 1 reactor very well. Back in the 1970’s, he and two other senior GE nuclear engineers quit their jobs and became whistleblowers. Bridenbaugh says the GE 3, as they were called, tried to warn company officials that the Mark 1 containment shell had serious design flaws.

BRIDENBAUGH: There was a lot of uncertainty about whether the Mark 1 containment would be able to withstand a major accident that they should have been designed to withstand.

GELLERMAN: Well, when you told your bosses at GE that there was a problem, what did they say?

BRIDENBAUGH: Well, my bosses at GE, said: Yeah, we know there’s a problem, we have to do something about it, and that’s what they’re doing. And, in fact, I was the guy that they assigned to be the project manager directing this reanalysis program. But I was concerned that there should have, perhaps, have been a respite while we completed the analysis. And my bosses basically said, well we can’t afford to do that - that would be like a massive recall, and it would be very detrimental to the marketing program of GE.

GELLERMAN: When you say respite, you wanted them to close these plants down while you did the analysis?

BRIDENBAUGH: Well, yes. I would have been much more satisfied if they had been closed down to do the analysis, yes.

GELLERMAN: And you and two other GE engineers quit?

BRIDENBAUGH: That’s right.

GELLERMAN: Is there a fundamental flaw that existed back then that’s still something we have to deal with? Is this generic to the design or can they be fixed?

BRIDENBAUGH: Well, it’s really hard to say, and it’s kind of a judgment call. There’s probably not a specific design flaw that exists there, but the configuration of the Mark 1 plant certainly, in my opinion, leaves it a little more vulnerable to significant events such as the earthquake or tsunami that happened at Fukushima. And, uh, I think that they have a basic design weakness, if you will, to withstand those kinds of events.

GELLERMAN: Well, Mr. Bridenbaugh, thanks a lot.

BRIDENBAUGH: Oh, okay. Thank you.

GELLERMAN: Former GE nuclear engineer Dale Bridenbaugh. You can hear more of the interview at our web site loe dot org.



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